Australia has historically been a land for fast bowlers. The seamers have found a lot of success there due to the extra pace and bounce that the pitches offer.
By contrast, the spinners have always been at a disadvantage given the lack of purchase from the pitches. Even among spinners, the finger-spinners have found it more difficult than the wrist-spinners.
With India selecting R Ashwin as the fourth bowler for the first Test, they seem to have put a lot of faith in him. But Ashwin has a tall task before him, with history not being on his side.
How difficult is it going to be for R Ashwin to perform in Australia? To answer this question, let us look at some key numbers over the last two decades. Here, we take a look at the performances of finger-spinners and wrist-spinners and the numbers of some prominent off-break bowlers in Australia.
- The general data (other than player-specific) are for the period from 2000 till 2020 unless specified.
- This includes the data of only the visiting bowlers who have picked up at least one wicket in Australia.
Finger-spinners v wrist-spinners in Australia
The lack of turn has been a disadvantage for the spinners on Australian tracks. But the availability of extra bounce has provided some assistance to the wrist spinners since they impart more overspin on the ball.
Over the last 20 years, the visiting wrist-spinners have taken 123 wickets at an average of 44.76 runs apiece. The strike rate for the wrist-spinners is 66.15, which means they take a wicket in every 11 overs.
When it comes to the finger-spinners, that average goes all the way to 54.82 with the strike rate climbing up to 97.48. This indicates that it takes more than 16 overs for a finger-spinner to pick up a wicket.
Right-arm off-break v left-arm orthodox in Australia
Even among the finger-spinners, left-arm orthodox bowlers have enjoyed a bit more success in Australia than right-arm off-break bowlers. The former have picked up 130 wickets at an average of 46, and a strike rate of 83.88.
When it comes to right-arm off-break bowlers, the average shoots up to 62.89 with the strike rate as high as 109.94. In essence, it takes more than 18 overs for a visiting off-break bowler to dismiss a batsman in Australia.
The visiting wrist-spinners and left-arm orthodox bowlers have had an aggregate of 15 (10&5) five-wicket hauls in the last two decades. Graeme Swann's five-for in the 2010 Ashes remains the only one by a visiting off-break bowler during the same period.
Performance of some prominent off-spinners in Australia
Let us now look at the performances of some potent off-break bowlers in the recent past, and see how they have fared in Australia.
India’s premier off-spinner has a career average of 25.43 and picked up a wicket every 9 overs. However, when it comes to Australia, he has picked up 27 wickets from 8 Test matches at 48 runs apiece. The strike rate rockets up to 94.7 which means he picks up a wicket after bowling nearly 16 overs.
The bowler with the most wickets in Test history does not have fond memories Down Under. He has played 5 Test matches in Australia, picking up just 12 wickets. Muttiah Muralitharan averages 75.41 bowling in Australia, which is nowhere close to his career average of 22.72.
English off-spinner Graeme Swann ended his career with 255 wickets at an average of 29.96 and a strike rate of 60.1. During the eight Ashes Tests that he played in Australia, Swann picked up 22 scalps, but it came at an average of 52.59 apiece. The strike rate was also much higher at 98.5, meaning that it took him nearly 17 overs to price out a batsman.
The Indian off-spinner, who picked up wickets aplenty against the Australian batsmen back home, did not quite enjoy the same level of success when he travelled to Aussie territory.
His average of 73.22 in Australia is way above the career number of 32.46. While Harbhajan picked up a wicket every 11 overs or so during his career, it took him 21 overs to dismiss a batsman in Australia.
Moeen Ali has picked up 181 wickets in his career so far at an average of 36.59 runs apiece. But he had a nightmare bowling on Australian pitches. In the five matches that Moeen Ali played Down Under, he picked up just 5 wickets at an average of 115.
R Ashwin is not a player who would back down from a challenge. He will be certainly looking forward to playing a key role in the current series against Australia.
The fact that he picked up six wickets in the only Test that he played during the 2018-19 tour will give him some confidence. And if India is going to stick with Ashwin, he will need to step up and make his mark.Published 18 Dec 2020, 11:57 IST